Every year when the children come home from school, on the day before their Christmas break begins, I give them the same lecture. It is entitled, "Christmas Energy: How to use it for good, and not make your mother want to go stay at the Westin".
All of our kids are running on "Christmas Energy" as the big day has come and gone. We've attended recitals, Christmas concerts, parties and various other events to celebrate the holiday. But nothing compares to spending the day or two before Christmas together. We bake, drink hot coco by the tree, play games, go swimming, watch Christmas movies, and attend our church's Christmas Eve service. I have to be honest and say that all that togetherness doesn't quite line up with the Norman Rockwell picture I just painted for you. Interspersed in all that sweet family time are fights, unnecessary touching, distinct odors, and complaints about why I didn't have time to make cookies for Santa.
I had to forego some of the baking this year in order to go get my hair done. The kids and I could have made a lot of cookies in those two hours while my roots were baking, but my hair needed attention more than the children did. Besides isn't there some saying about mothers and their hair, like "if mom's hair doesn't look pretty, then Christmas is ruined"? I may not be quoting it exactly right, but it goes something like that.
Christmas day was different for us this year, as we spent the holiday together, with no extended family in town to visit. A few weeks ago I decided to take advantage of the fact that we weren't having visitors and decided we needed to do something fun and different on Christmas Day. Billy agreed, and we decided we'd take the kids to Estes Park for the evening and spend the 26th at the sledding hill in Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park! What fun! What merriment! What a brilliant idea!
After opening gifts on Christmas morning, and eating the traditional monkey bread (and regretting it) we busied ourselves to get ready to head out for a night in the mountains. Wow. You would not even believe how much crap six people need for one night away. The snow pants and boots alone took up the whole back of the car. Finding gloves that fit (and matched), hats, scarves, and other warm gear had me using what Billy calls "my intense tone of voice". The kids agreed. I spoke intensely.
We ate lunch, cleaned up, took care of our pets, gathered the library books, because A. why wouldn't we drop them off on Christmas Day on our way out of town and B. they were probably incurring a large fine and threatening our credit score. So books dropped, and we were off.
At this point, driving up Sheridan, the energy in the car was happy. The kids had some new things with them, such as warm blankets and books, and Billy and I were ready for a nice drive up to the mountains. Right about the second I decided to relax, a squirrel ran out in the road. And as they often do, the little guy changed his mind at the last minute, just in time for Billy to run him over. We all felt the tiny bump and screamed. Faith looked back to assess the damage and yelled, "Don't worry Daddy! He's not dead! He can't get up, but he isn't dead!"
We all felt terrible for the little guy, and like any dysfunctional family who can't cope with raw emotion, we began to make fun of Billy for maiming a squirrel on Christmas. His only consolation was that someone likely came and "finished the job" shortly after us.
Once we arrived in beautiful Estes Park, I realized a grand error in my plans. Nothing was open for dinner on Christmas so finding food for the evening was going to be tricky. We drove around town trying to find anything open and ended up by the Stanley Hotel. The kids began to panic a bit, knowing there's just something very creepy about that place, but not really knowing why. And again, as parents with a twisted sense of humor, Billy and I fed off their fear. Will asked, "Um, guys, why are we here? We aren't staying at the Stanley Hotel are we?" Billy replied, "Oh yeah, mom checked and there was a mix up with the room we had reserved and this is the only place left in town with any available rooms". Will was traumatized by this comment, even more than the squirrel incident so I decided not to draw this joke out. I assured him we were kidding and all he could say was, "You guys are so mean.".
Don't worry, we made up for our sick Stanley Hotel joke by feeding the kids dinner from the deli at Safeway. No, really, we did. It was the only place opened on Christmas so we loaded up on a variety of food items. There was microwaveable lasagna, chicken fingers, hoagies, salads to go, mac and cheese, and even some fruit to balance out the Christmas Dinner faire. We headed to the hotel with our goods, checked in, and did what people who don't have cable do: Flipped on the tv and searched for HGtv. We ate our fatty food and channel surfed, all the while Little Miss Sass kept asking, "We go swimming? We go swimming?"
At this point there was a blizzard outside, so who wouldn't want to put a swimsuit on and traipse downstairs to the indoor pool and hot tub? Despite the cold, this turned out to be super fun, as all four kids swam while Billy played with them in the pool. I sat nearby in the hot tub thanking God for a husband who doesn't make me swim with the children. After all the fun, it was back to the room for more cable. Little Miss Sass went down in her crib without a fuss, and all 6 of dozed off together to pretty much the end of what was a wonderful day.
But guess what? The fun doesn't stop there! We woke up this very morning with high expectations for joyful memories and a free continental breakfast. Memories were made, however, we did have to get Egg McMuffins at McDonalds. Oh well, you can't have it all right? Next on our agenda was to drive into Rocky Mountain National Park to the sledding hill. While we drove, we all chose the part about the drive that was most pretty. Faith and I loved the trees. Billy loved it all. Jack was miserable, and Will was just excited to sled. Little Miss just repeated what everyone else said. We arrived at the hill and all began to put on our snow gear. Four hours later we piled out of the car and tried to walk with 3 sleds, a toddler, a grumpy teenager, and Billy in a giant green hat. Billy fell while carrying the toddler. The teenager almost turned back before getting to the top, and Faith and I kept complaining that our snow pants wouldn't stay up. However, we all made it to the top of the hill triumphantly and began to sled!
Little Miss Sass rode with me, and laughed the whole way down. Jack and Faith went about four times each before heading down to the warming room, and Will found his groove with a jump and was in sledding heaven. Billy and I took turns carrying Little Sass up the long hill, and tried not to have a stroke from our poor oxygen choices. After quite some time, the four of us called it good and went to warm up too.
We drove home together, talking a million miles a minute about the fun we'd had, while eating our Safeway deli foods for lunch too. The kids were all satisfied, and despite earlier complaints, the energy in the car was happy and content.
When we arrived home, I used my "intense tone" again unfortunately, in order to get the kids to help us unpack, and by the time I realized how unpleasant I can be, we were all done and the kids were ready to enjoy their new Christmas gifts. I did laundry, and paid bills while Billy did whatever it is he does, usually involving a guitar pedal or his iPhone. After dinner, we convened once more to the Christmas tree for a family game. The boys beat us girls, but nobody cared. It was all good fun, and a beautiful way to end a few days of peace and joy together as a family.
Getting ready for Christmas is a lot of work. Going away for one night takes even more effort. But the ultimate outcome of being together, making memories, and working at it all is worth every second of being part of a family. Before I know it these days shall pass and our kids will be making new memories with their own kids. I don't want to ever look back and regret not trying, or facing challenges head on, or staying home when we could be on an adventure. For as long as we can, I want to live life to the fullest, and love those entrusted to me to the best of my ability. God knows, oh He knows so well, how very flawed and harsh I can be. But He also knows my heart. And He continues to award me time and fresh starts with each new day. How beautiful His gifts to us, and how thankful I am that He didn't stay a small baby lying in a manger. Yet He became a man, endured a cross, and gave me a gift I could never repay. What a wonderful Christmas holiday, one I will never forget. I am thankful for God is so good.